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Point of No Return

Where does that moment come from, the point where it’s no longer mere grumbling about aspects of one’s job or relationship and has instead become the beginnings of an exit strategy?

For some people, I’m sure it’s a big dramatic moment, less a straw breaking the camel’s back than perhaps a cinder block.

Maybe in a relationship, a partner cheats. Or allows their anger to become physical. Maybe in a job setting, the manager lays down a policy which absolutely runs contrary to your own ethical standard. Those are easier moments, I think, akin to ripping off a band-aid, all at once.

But I think I never really understood Thoreau’s quote about desperation until these past few years. Desperation, as in “despair.” -- Ahhh, I see.... And now I feel like I see verification of his sentiment everywhere I turn. I’m sure it’s just the particular viewfinder through which I’m currently seeing the world, but we all make concessions and compromises. We don’t love our jobs but we remain, grateful to have a job -- any job -- and having perhaps made peace with the parts of it we don’t like. Our love relationships grow stale but we have so many entanglements and maybe also children. We are ever wary of the old saying about the grass not actually being greener. The hidden trick of that old chestnut, however, is that you have to actually GO to that other pasture to know for sure, and what have you risked by having gone?

So instead we linger and, perhaps, despair. We dream, sometimes on a grand scale, sometimes for only the merest sliver of difference from our current situations. Maybe we love our husband but we really wish he’d make a bit more effort to support us. Maybe we’ll stay at our jobs but wish we could get a new manager or start closing earlier on Sundays.

And then, also, "quiet" desperation. We "quietly" despair, suffering in silence. No sense complaining. After all, we’ve all got so much to be grateful for: safety, a roof over our heads, clean drinking water, food and clothing in abundance. Especially those of us with Midwestern backgrounds: you don’t complain. You sit quietly and count your blessings, while despair gnaws at your insides.

I didn’t have any big epiphany about changing my life. It was more of a dawning awareness that I was continuing to accept the less-than-desirable quality of various aspects of my existence. I was living in Alaska, whose beauty is breathtaking at times, but still I felt bored by the scenery, by the trails I’d walked literally hundreds of times in the twenty years I’d lived there. I was still awestruck by a thousand pound moose cow walking with her bright orange newborn calf along my backyard fence, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to stay. Even the burst of cloudless bright blue skies coupled with crisp cool temperatures -- Goldilocks’ “just-right” -- for the weeks before I left, nearly endless under the midnight sun? No, not enough.

Similarly the job. An exceptional braintrust of capable, compassionate, and hardworking colleagues. A state-of-the-art facility with all the tools to conduct my professional life with the greatest of competency. A flexible -- and minimal -- work schedule still earning me a more than acceptable wage. Still not enough.

Who knows what the final grains of sand were, what nudged me finally over the line from tolerable to intolerable. The earthquake and its aftershocks. Those were big nudges, I suppose. But I was already teetering precariously. The slightest breeze might have knocked me over.

Regardless, the difficulty came in not looking back, not second-guessing. Of reassuring myself at every step that of course this felt strange and foreign and scary.

Uncomfortable as a new pair of Levi’s used to be (before all the pre-distressed or acid-wash or whatever it’s called these days), those first dozen times wearing them would be an exercise in misery and chafing.

This was going to feel like that. Doesn’t mean I should dig the old pair out of the trash -- the pair with half my ass hanging out and a big smear of engine grease down one leg. I had to stay the course and keep going.

And so that’s what I’ve done: I’ve passed the point of no return.

I wonder what happens next?


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